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The State of the World's Children 2004

Coming back in Afghanistan

© UNICEF/2002/Page
The challenge of development is the challenge of education for all, and the challenge of achieving education for all is the challenge of education for girls.

Najiba Forough is back as the headmistress of Nahisa Barbad School in Afghanistan. She had left the country two years after the Taliban came into power and returned when they were removed by a UN-sanctioned military operation.

Under the Taliban, the education of girls was banned – although many parents and teachers ran secret classes. Ms. Forough’s school was turned into a communications centre by the Taliban.

In post-war Afghanistan, the 2002 Back to School campaign has reopened schools. With UNICEF support, the Interim Administration worked to rebuild the education system, allowing 1.5 million children to start school at the end of March 2002. UNICEF supplied learning materials for 700,000 children, 60,000 education kits, 400 recreational kits and 600 school tents. About 7,000 tons of supplies were distributed by education officers as well as health workers.

On 23 March 2002 some 3,000 schools across Afghanistan opened their doors to millions of boys and girls with 93 per cent of supplies having been delivered on time and waiting for the students. By September 2002 many more children in the south as well as refugees returning from Pakistan, Iran and other surrounding countries went back to school, bringing a total of 3 million children – double the original estimate – back into the classroom. About 30 per cent were girls, quite impressive since before the Taliban only 5 per cent of primary-school-age girls were enrolled in school.

By October 2003 over one million girls had enrolled in school, their families acknowledging the importance of educating daughters as well as sons.

The challenge now is to maintain and expand schooling during a time when the attention – and the funding – of the international community is elsewhere. Though the problems are still immense, the achievements over the last two years have been remarkable. For the first time, education was made the top priority in a post-conflict emergency.



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Video feature: Afghanistan

With the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, refugees are streaming back to their country to reclaim their lands. Their paperwork is processed at a resettlement centre.
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Refugees return to cities devastated by the fighting. Children are immunized and registered for school in UNICEF tents at the resettlement centre.
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With peace, UNICEF is able to reach remote locations with school supplies, either by airdrop or by arduously trekking up the mountains with donkey caravans.
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Both boys and girls are returning to schools in record numbers, despite difficult conditions. Girls now make up some 33 per cent of pupils, up from zero per cent during Taliban rule.
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At Afghanistan’s largest school, 10,000 students are taught in three shifts throughout the day by just 227 teachers.
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One young woman who’s catching up on missed years is Vida Saghara: “It is not formal, it’s my private wish, my private thing, my private hope, that I want to be a good writer.”
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